Edmonton theatre 'hits your heart and opens your mind'

Since June, Edmontonians have been flocking to fill the 200 plush red seats in the Varscona theatre after it received a massive $7.5 million building renovation.

10 years and $7.5M later the newly renovated Varscona Theatre in Old Strathcona is back with a bang

John Hudson is the executive director of Varscona Theatre. (John Robertson)

John Hudson remembers collapsing when it was all over.

"I went to Nova Scotia with my family and pretty much slept for three weeks," recalls the executive director of Edmonton's Varscona Theatre, reflecting on the theatre's successful fundraising campaign and a year's worth of renovations.

Hudson still cannot believe organizers managed to raise $7.5 million to finish a massive building renovation a decade in the making.

Since June when the theatre re-opened, Edmontonians have been flocking to fill the 200 plush red seats in a space with modern amenities, lighting and acoustics at 10329 83rd Ave. 
The renovated Varscona Theatre opened in June of 2016. (Adrienne Lamb)

The latest production, by the local theatre troupe Teatro La Quindicina and on until Oct. 15, is called Witness To A Conga.

When that performance closes, the 25th season of Shadow Theatre will be launched.

"It's theatre that hits your heart and opens your mind, and I think that's what theatre should do every single time," said Hudson.

Edmonton is a theatre town

The Edmonton Arts Council estimates there are 18 professional theatre companies in the capital city. Dozens of community groups and many roving performers also perform as part of festivals like the Fringe.

During its 11-day run this August, the 35th Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival broke records, selling almost 122,000 tickets. Nearly 850,000 people visited the famed Fringe grounds in Old Strathcona.

Performers took over 45 venues to put on more than 1,600 shows for an estimated $1.3 million in ticket sales. 
Every year an army of volunteers help manage the fringe festival site in Old Strathcona. (Adrienne Lamb)

A cast of thousands

This year nearly 1,200 people volunteered during the Fringe taking tickets, handing out programs and picking up garbage.

Volunteers also helped support Walterdale Theatre for the last 58 years, admits Anne Marie Szucs, the theatre's artistic director.

She points to the community members who build sets, sew costumes and perform on stage, all for the love of the play.

"We are a place where people get together and create," said Szucs. "We pride ourselves on mentoring new, young artists."

Anne Marie Szucs is the artistic director at Walterdale Theatre. (John Robertson)

In fact, the director for this season's first production Bethany Hughes is new to the craft so Szucs says been paired with a directing mentor. 

After nearly 30 years in the theatre business, Szucs knows there's more and more competition for people's time and money.

But she knows the rush of being a part of a live audience can't be beat, even by the bells and whistles of technology.

"Theatre is alive — breathing — my Ipad is not."

And John Hudson believes live theatre the most fundamental art.

"It's what we started doing even when we were just describing how the hunt went around the campfire." 
Red by John Logan runs at Walterdale Theatre from Oct. 12th to the 22nd. (Adrienne Lamb)

You can see more from the Theatre District on Our Edmonton Saturday at 10 a.m. and Sunday and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV.

About the Author

Adrienne Lamb is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She's the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. Adrienne has spent the last couple of decades telling stories across Canada.